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Calls for Police Chief Dotson to resign fall short at Board of Aldermen

Police chief Sam Dotson addresses Tower Grove South residents at a community meeting on December 12, 2014.
File photo | Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

An attempt by the St. Louis Board of Aldermen to record its discontent with a sitting police chief running for mayor fell short on Friday.

The resolution from Alderman Joe Roddy, D-17th Ward, got just 13 of the 15 votes it needs to pass. It calls on St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson to resign if he officially files to run for mayor in November. The chief announced earlier this month he would seek the office, being vacated after 16 years by Mayor Francis Slay.

"The federal government says if you are an employee with a position of authority, you should not be involved in partisan politics," Roddy said. "And we also put the police chief in an exalted position where it's very hard to get rid of a police chief because they want to insulate him  from political influence. That's why I take this seriously."

Alderman Scott Ogilvie, D-24th Ward, found himself agreeing with Roddy. State law allows first responders to run for office and engage in other political activity if they aren't on duty or in uniform, he said.

"But it's not clear to me that there's ever a time where the police chief is ever truly not acting as the police chief when he's interacting with the public," Ogilvie said, "I don't think it's possible to make that distinction."

But Alderman Megan-Ellyia Green, D-15th Ward, worried about the impact of a Dotson resignation, especially since the city will have a new mayor in April.

"We could theoretically end up having three different chiefs over a six- to nine-month period, and what does that do to the stability of our police department, what does that do to the stability of our public safety system?" she said.

Roll call

Ayes: Dionne Flowers, Jack Coatar, Joe Vollmer, Tom Villa, Terry Kenendy, Marlene Davis, Cara Spencer, Jeffrey Boyd, Joe Vaccaro, Scott Ogilvie, Shane Cohn, Frank Williamson

Nays: Joe Roddy

Present: Sharon Tyus, Sam Moore, Tammika Hubbard, Ken Ortmann, Larry Arnowitz, Beth Murphy, Megan -Ellyia Green

Abstain: Lyda Krewson, Lewis Reed

Absent: Freeman Bosley, Steve Conway, Christine Ingrassia, Carol Howard, Donna Baringer, Antonio French.

Reed and Krewson are both running for mayor. Roddy's no vote enables him to bring the resolution up again next week, if he chooses.

SLU redevelopment

Also on Friday, the board advanced a plan to remake nearly 400 acres in and around the medical campus of Saint Louis University. The measure makes the site available for redevelopment, and grants the developer some additional powers over zoning and tax incentives. The university and SSM Health, which owns SLU Hospital, will likely use part of the site for a new hospital building.

Alderman Shane Cohn, D-25thWard, was the lone no vote. He said officials with the St. Louis Development Corporation told him months ago that the city was no longer authorizing the development tool now approved for the SLU site.

"And I cannot express enough my frustration and displeasure with the way SLDC treats our neighborhoods," he said.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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